Last reviewed on September 23, 2014   —  14 Comments

A distribution list is a group of e-mail addresses, usually grouped under a single e-mail address. When you send to a distribution list, you’re really sending to everyone whose address is included in the list. It’s much easier than picking 30 different addresses from the Address Book.

Outlook 2000 and Later Distribution Lists | Global Address List DLs | Personal Address Book DLs | Outlook 98 (IMO) Contact Groups | Using Categories for DLs | Tools | More Information

Outlook 2000 and Later Distribution Lists

Outlook 2000 and later versions allow you to create distribution lists in any Contacts folder, including a folder in Public Folders, by clicking the drop-down arrow next to the New button. The members of these DLs can include both existing entries from any address list and entries created only inside the particular DL.

When you send to a Contacts folder DL, the To field on received messages shows the individual addresses of all members of the list. If you want to hide the contents of the list, put the name of the DL in the the Bcc field (View | Bcc).

If you open the DL, you can use the Update button to update the addresses in the DL if the original contact or Global Address List addresses have changed.

DLs in Exchange Server mailbox or Public Folders contacts folders are limited to about 128 entries, but those entries can include other DLs.

Outlook 2003 allows you to expand the DL and see all members in the To box before sending the message. See Description and Considerations When You Use the Expand List Feature in Outlook 2003

Also see:

Global Address List DLs

Distribution lists in the Exchange Server GAL are created with the Exchange Administrator program. You can’t create them with the Outlook or Exchange client.

The administrator can grant access permission to one or more users to maintain the DL; such maintenance is done by opening the DL from the Outlook or Exchange Address Book. However, you can add only addresses that are already in the GAL. This means that it is practical for a user to maintain only lists of internal recipients; each external recipient would have to be added first to the GAL by the administrator.

When you send to a GAL DL, the To field shows only the name of the distribution list, not the distribution list member addresses. If you double-click the DL address in the To field, you will be able to see the membership of the list, if the administrator has not hidden it.

Exchange Server mailing list applications provide another way to maintain distribution lists in the GAL.

Personal Address Book DLs

In the Exchange client, Windows Messaging, Outlook 97 and Outlook 98 or Outlook 2000 in Corporate/Workgroup mode, you can create a Personal Distribution List (PDL) in the Personal Address Book. List members can be existing entries in any other address list or entries created only in the PDL.

When you send to a PDL, the To field on received messages shows the individual addresses of all members of the list. If you want to hide the contents of the list, put the name of the PDL in the the Bcc field (View | Bcc).

The major limitation to PDLs in the PAB is that, if an address changes in the GAL or Contacts, that change does not propagate to the PDL. Therefore, maintaining a large PDL can be a big chore.

Outlook 98 (IMO) Contact Groups

Outlook 98 in Internet Only Mode allows you to create distribution lists called “groups” through the Address Book. Choose Tools | Address Book, then click the New Group button. See OL98 (IMO): How to Set Up and Use an E-mail Group (MSKB).

This feature is not available to Outlook 98 in Corporate/Workgroup mode (see next topic).

Using Categories for DLs

The Microsoft Outlook Contacts folder cannot contain distribution lists in the same way as the Personal Address Book. (See Why does Outlook have both Contacts and the Personal Address Book?.)

While you can keep the PAB installed in your profile and maintain personal distribution lists there, if you change the e-mail address for an Outlook Address Book recipient, that change does not update any distribution lists in the PAB.

For that reason, you might prefer to use the Microsoft Outlook filter or grouping function for managing lists. In the Contacts folder that contains the members of your lists, create a category for each list, then assign that category to every contact that you want to be on a particular list. (You could also, of course, keep each list in its own Contacts folder, but if you have a lot of overlap between lists, updating addresses gets to be a chore.)

To send to the list, filter the Contacts folder to show only the names with the list’s category, then select all those contacts and click New Message to Contact to create a message to the list. Or, group the contacts by category, then collapse the group you want to mail to, select it and click New Message to Contact.

This method works with all versions of Outlook but has several problems:

  • If a contact has more than one e-mail address, you have no opportunity to select which one to use. All the recipient’s addresses are added to the message; it’s up to you to delete the duplicates.
  • For recipients with both fax numbers and e-mail addresses, only the e-mail address is included.
  • If a contact has only a fax number, you’ll get a message saying no e-mail address could be found. Ignore it. Outlook will put the name of the contact in the To field, then resolve it to the fax address when you send the message.
  • All the addresses appear in the To field, which adds considerably to the length of a message if it’s a big list. You can, however, cut and paste all the recipients from the To field to the Bcc field.

Another approach is to copy all the items from one category into another folder and use that folder for a Word mail merge. Finally, some of the Mass Mail Tools support filtering by category.


Tools in the Spotlight

Distribution List Manager

Use Distribution List Manager to create distribution lists from many emails all at once or from a single email with a lot of addresses (or anything in between). It works with To, CC, and From recipients when adding distribution list members from emails; add to existing lists or create a new list each time you add a member. See the current count of members of your distribution lists before you add the new member and receive a warning you when you approach or exceed the Outlook distribution list limit. Enter code WD9BHK53 during checkout.

Subscription Manager

The Subscription Manager add-in (SUM) is designed to automatically add to or delete subscribers from Microsoft Outlook distribution lists based on e-mail message with the command SUM in its "Subject" field. Subscription Manager is the first mailing list management software for Microsoft Outlook. Part of the MAPILab Toolbox.



Adaxes is a solution for Active Directory management and automation that also allows to control and enhance Office 365 workflow, i.e. automate licenses assignment and revoking procedures, execute rule-based user updates, manage Exchange Online mailboxes, etc. — all that from a single web interface.

Automatic Outlook 2000 Distribution List Script

Sample Exchange Server event script to update Outlook 2000 distribution lists in a public folder with contacts meeting certain criteria. Designed to run on a schedule.

Bulk Reply Form

Custom Outlook form to send a single reply to the senders of all messages in a folder.

Davton MailChimp add-in for Outlook

The MailChimp add-in for Outlook provides integration between MailChimp mailing lists and Outlook contacts. Export contacts to MailChimp, Import contacts from MailChimp, View MailChimp lists and campaign details from within Outlook.


The extVIEW Active Directory View/Search Software for Intranets is a browser-based solution that makes viewing and searching Active Directory users and resources fast, easy, and accurate.


An NT/2000/XP Service that copies Global Address List information to a database, using Extended MAPI, not ADSI or CDO. GALtoDB supports Microsoft Access, Oracle, Microsoft SQL, and most other database systems. It includes the ability to create a new distribution list based on information from the Global Address List, while excluding email addresses that match criteria that you define, perfect for creating or recreating an up-to-date distribution list that does not contain unwanted accounts, such as Service accounts, VIP accounts, etc.

Group Management Portal

Group Management Portal is a self-service web application that allows end-users within an organization to create and manage their own distribution lists in Exchange or security groups in Active Directory. Simply to deploy, easy to manage.

GroupID Automate

Build distribution lists based on queries against the Exchange 5.5 directory or Active Directory, either with or without Exchange Server, or from files, databases, or other external sources. Also provides tools for managing all types of DLs and groups and printing DL lists.

GroupID Reports

Run reports on distribution lists, users and more, pulling data from Exchange 5.5, Active Directory, or Exchange 2000/2003/2007. List all distribution lists and their members or just the number of members and present the report in XML, HTM, or Excel format. Free.


PeopleSearch include the ability to target Active Directory views to specific groups or users, construct user, computer, and group reports against Active Directory, localize your installation using multilanguage support. PeopleSearch uses a web browser to retrieve information stored in the directory, such as telephone number, location, title, and manager. Administrators can customize PeopleSearch to set up searches for any object or attribute in the Active Directory, configure how search results are displayed. Version 3.


PeopleUpdate provides a web-based search and update interface for Microsoft Active Directory environments. PeopleUpdate allows for search, export, and update functionality from a web-based interface. PeopleUpdate allows for drop-down lists and input masks for controlling data being updated. Version 3.

Prosoft Apps Internet Email Software

Bulk mail tool to send an individual message to multiple recipients. Addresses can come from any address list and may include distribution lists.


  1. Dimitris says

    Hi Diane,

    I have a problem to distinguish if a user request is a GAL DL or can be donr through Outlook DL. Now, we have more that 1000 GAL DL, with a total number users of 3000. How can we setup or find criteria to distinguish GAL vs Outlook DLs?

    • Diane Poremsky says

      I'm not sure I understand what you need to do - the Outlook DLs will be in the contact folders in the mailboxes.

  2. Dimitris says

    Thanks for the quick reply Diane. As an organisation we have more than 1000+ DLs in Exchange and we try to eliminate these. We need a process to distinguish if a user's request for a DL has to be created in the Exchange server or Outlook. We need to find the criteria to choose if a request goes to Exchange or Outlook DL.

    • Diane Poremsky says

      So you want something like a 'best practices' to help you decide where it belongs?

      I'd definitely consider how many people are expected to use it - you can pick any number you like as the cut off, but if only one or two people need it, I'd say it belongs in Outlook for sure, not the GAL.

      If all members of a DL are Internal users, can you use a dynamic dl? This allows outlook to update the DL automatically as people come and go.

  3. Guy says

    Good Morning, Is there a way t view Only DLs in te contact folder of Outloook 2007. It would even be helpful if able to sort Contacts in a way as to Group all of the DLs together. I'm trying to avoid having to search and scan my 6,000 contactsto see if a DL exists that suits my purpose. ... please and Thanx, Guyb

    • Diane Poremsky says

      You can create a custom view.
      Click Filter and then advanced tab. Use Messages class doesn't contain contact - this creates a dl only view. Use contains contact to view only contacts.

  4. Srinivas GS says

    Hi Diane,
    Good Morning!

    Want to understand if there is a way to send an automated email to users as and when they are added to a DL. This is for them to be aware that they are part of this DL and to share some processes that they need to adhere to.

    Currently this is a manual process, however automating this will help a lot.

    Srinivas GS

    • Diane Poremsky says

      Is the DL in outlook or exchange (in the GAL)? Outlook doesn't have any feature like that. you might be able to do it using VBA but I don't have any code samples.

    • Diane Poremsky says

      DL's in the Global Address List? OWA has limited features and this was left out. Most users can't edit DLs in Outlook either.

  5. Lezley Kempf says

    I have created some new OU's in AD that house mail contacts for DL's that we create. But I am finding that some of the mail contacts will not update or show in the DL in the GAL. Is this something common and is there a way to troubleshoot this?

    • Diane Poremsky says

      Are you in the online GAL or offline address book? The offline version can take up to 24 hours to update.

  6. lezley kempf says

    I have tried both but a few of the contacts will not show up in either. I created a test DL and added all of the mail contacts to it and the same ones do not show up in that DL either.

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